[This was originally posted five days ago. I moved it to the top because of an excellent comment by Eric which forced me to explain and defend what I said in the post.]
The number of traffic fatalities fell three percent between 2009 and 2010, from 33,808 to 32,788. Since 2005, fatalities have dropped 25 percent, from a total of 43,510 fatalities in 2005. The same estimates also project that the fatality rate will be the lowest recorded since 1949, with 1.09 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the 1.13 fatality rate for 2009. The decrease in fatalities for 2010 occurred despite an estimated increase of nearly 21 billion miles in national vehicle miles traveled.
This report didn’t give the absolute number of traffic fatalities in 1949 so I looked it up. It was 30,249. The way the above was written it might appear they are stating the fatality rate in 1949 as 1.13, but that was the rate in 2009. The fatality rate is the important number which is the number or fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven. It’s of limited use to compare the number of fatalities in 2010 to the number in 1949 since so many fewer vehicle miles were driven in 1949 than in 2010.
The 2010 fatality rate of 1.09 is said to be the lowest ever. The 2005 rate was 1.46. The fatality rate in 1949 was …apparently nobody knows. The number of vehicle miles driven in 1949 was…who knows. The closest I could find was that the fatality rate in the late 1950’s is reputed to have been 5 times higher than it is now. I don’t know how anyone knows that but it seems reasonable to believe it.